The main barriers for development across Eastern Europe can be summarised as: • Financial barriers, including a lack of support schemes, risk insurance options, etc. • Lack of knowledge about the potential of using geothermal energy to power district heating networks among local, regional and national decision makers • Complex legislation and administrative procedures, in some cases regulatory gaps • Lack of qualified personnel, such as technicians and civil servants, to facilitate the process In order to tap into this huge potential for geothermal district heating in Europe in general, and in Eastern and Central Europe in particular, decision makers need to shape adequate regulatory, administrative and financial frameworks and create the market conditions necessary to facilitate development of this technology. This should include the following comprehensive steps: • Providing financial support structures and information about risk insurance options to help network operators finance the switch to geothermal energy • Educating local, regional and national decision makers about the potential of geothermal energy for district heating systems • Shaping the regulatory framework to facilitate development Going into detail on all sub topics of every one of those steps would go beyond the scope of this article; this is all but an indication of the steps necessary to take in order to make Europe’s district heating systems fit for the future. Support schemes to fund geothermal energy projects are already employed successfully in Africa and Latin America. The Geothermal Development Facility (GDF) for Latin America, for instance, offers risk mitigation support during the exploratory drilling stage of a project and financing options for production drilling and construction stages. Importantly, it established a Technical Assistance Forum that aims to provide a space for dialogue and discussion with policy makers and partner governments, a type of service that would be very worthwhile in furthering geothermal exploratory development in Eastern Europe. GDF is the first such fund that is financed by a group of institutions; including KfW Development Bank and co- financiers the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Development Bank of Latin America and the Inter-American Development Bank. Similarly, the Geothermal Risk Mitigation Facility (GRMF) provides regional financial support for geothermal energy projects in East Africa. A fund modelled after these two examples, providing the same type and level of support should also be established to aid the geothermal district heating development in Eastern Europe.
In these countries in particular options to convert ageing fossil- fuelled district heating networks to geothermal energy abound. This would allow communities to futureproof their heating systems by making then more consumer and environmentally friendly as well as independent from fossil fuel imports, while creating value for the region. Converting all of these district heating networks to geothermal energy would result in immense savings of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Global Emissions Model for integrated Systems (GEMIS) by the International Institute for Sustainability Analysis and Strategy, heating with natural gas, which is currently the main fuel for the district heating networks in Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and Croatia, leads to the following emissions:
Heating with 100% natural gas
CO 2 equivalent
N 2 O
Table 2: Greenhouse gas emissions for heating systems running on 100% natural gas. (Source: GEMIS, available at: http://iinas.org/gemis-download-121.html)
Given the 16 TWh p.a. of heat that may be extracted using geothermal energy, it would be possible to save around 4 million tons worth of CO2 equivalent emissions per year. Given a usual run time of 30 years for such geothermal heating projects, it would be possible to save over 119 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions in total in the four above mentioned countries alone. This is equivalent to the CO2 equivalent emissions emitted per year by all cars in Germany, Croatia and Hungary combined. Given the current price of 7.68 € per CO2 European Emission Allowance, this equates to close to € 916 million worth of CO2 emissions that could be saved. Retrofitting existing district heating networks with geothermal energy as opposed to building entirely new geothermal district heating networks right away is a potential first step in the process of developing geothermal district heating in a given region. It allows for saving costs and gives the community, the region and ultimately the country the opportunity to learn more about the technology before developing geothermal district heating projects from scratch, including the construction of the district heating network itself. In some instances, it might even make sense first to introduce geothermal energy incrementally to the district heating network, first supplying 30 % of heat through geothermal energy and gradually increasing this share over the course of a couple of years. TAPPING INTO THE POTENTIAL FOR GEOTHERMAL DISTRICT HEATING IS STILL CHALLENGING Currently, developing geothermal district heating systems in Central and Eastern Europe means facing a number of obstacles, which vary in magnitude and severity from country to country.
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